The next day was a whirlwind of exciting activity throughout the day. There was never a time to just sit and wonder, for all of the wonder was right before their very eyes. Every room they went into, no matter where, in the mammoth building, was more exciting than the last. Every place they went they met tons of new friends, many their own ages, though little Jacob was the youngest. They ate their lunch in the employee's dining room and even met the chefs. Everyone treated them like the most special people on earth. What amazed Jeremy and Larry was that everyone was treated in this special way.
Then, finally, the worst thing of all that could ever happen, happened!
"Follow me, boys. I have a surprise for you."
Elvin turned and started walking to the elevator, his group of excited boys in tow, anticipating the next adventure. They took the elevator down one floor and turned into a long hallway, every bit as warm and beautiful as was their floor, the seventh floor.
They came to another hallway and turned into it to see four doors; two, close together, on each side of the short hallway. Elvin swung open the first door and exclaimed,
"Oh, no! What'd we do to deserve this?" cried a disappointed Devon.
The room had a wall of white at the other end, with a simple, but large, desk in front of it. Throughout the rest of the room were colorful shapes and posters of all sorts of descriptions. In the center of the room were much smaller desks pointed to the big one at the front.
"It's your new classroom!" shouted Elvin, trying to perk up his group of little friends.
"Wow!" exclaimed Jeremy. "We get ta go back ta school? Here? Wow!"
"Yeah! Figures you'd like it, ya little nerd." Devon.
"Ah, come on, Dev. We've prob'ly picked up 'nough smarts on the streets ta out do most teachers, don'tcha think?" said Larry, trying to encourage his friend. "And if we can find a brain in that there thick skull o' yers, maybe we could pack it with some o' this knowledge stuff."
"Yes, well, it will be a while before it starts up again. You'll be schooling with your new friends while you're with us. You'll school near your home when you're back in the city."
With a wave of Elvin's hand, they were off to another corner of the complex. After quite a long walk, they came to one long hallway that had dozens of doors. Above each door was the name of the kind of toys or sports equipment in the rooms. Each boy opened several doors to see what was inside. There must have been a zillion toys and sports stuff all together.
Soon enough, their first day in this wonderland was nearing its end. The boys were still catching up on their rest from the long day before. Without any fuss, they bathed and put on clean clothes. They were going to dine with the man's best friends, Elvin and Dora and her family.
Dinner was excellent. Dora's family included her husband and two children, a girl of fifteen and a boy of thirteen. After dinner, while the adults enjoyed their drinks, the kids shared a game, a respectable game in fact; something that the young lady had brought.
Once again the man's nightly task, after the boys were ready for bed, was to first hug each one, then tuck them in and kiss each cheek. This time, Elvin got a hug from the boys, as well.
The next day was pretty much the same exciting day as the first until right after lunch. Throughout lunch there was no stopping any of them, telling the man of all the beautiful and amazing things that they'd seen. They'd even helped in the packaging department, stacking boxes and boxes of new toys.
But the man finally held up his hand to say,
"It's nap time, boys."
The 'huh's' were not the quiet kind.
"I ain't no baby, ya know." Devon, you know.
"Of course not. But we need to stay up extra late tonight and I want you boys to be fresh. I promise you that you won't be disappointed if you'll actually sleep."
Well, there was no way that four rowdy, playful boys, with a marvelous playground at their beck and call, could possibly . . .
After several hours of deep sleep, Jeremy and Jacob wandered into the older boys' room. The two older boys were talking softly back and forth, chuckling at times and poking each other too, as Larry lay half way on Devon's body. Larry was the first to notice the two boys in their doorway.
"Well, come on and get in here, ya little nose pickers. How can we eat'cha up if yer all the way over there?"
It was funny because the last time they said something like that to the little ones, Jeremy and Jacob were scared out of their wits. This time was funny because the two boys didn't hesitate a second to run full steam ahead and jump onto the bed of their good friends. The laughter was as loud as ever as Devon and Larry each grabbed a boy and began to eat him alive, tickling without mercy and nibbling anything that got in their way. After ten minutes of eating their fill, the big boys tossed the laughing carcasses of the two little boys to the other side of the bed and pulled back the covers so they could all cuddle in close. Within minutes, there was the gentle breathing of four spent youth, loving their closeness and the friendship of the boys that lay on either side of them.
That was good for another two hours of nap.
The rest of the day went pretty much like their morning. They began to believe that there was no way to see everything that went on throughout this complex. But they sure tried. Elvin was very generous with his time and his patience, like when the boys wanted to stay a bit longer to see something or even to help out.
But even after their nap and a nice, hearty meal, they were beginning to fade as the clock moved toward midnight.
"Don't give out on me now, boys. The night is young and there's so much to do," said the man.
They couldn't believe that the man had more energy than they did. They all sat in the middle of the family room carpet and decided to play a card game; quiet and simple. Devon even mentioned that their deck had all the right cards in it, plus two with some stupid joker guy. The man chuckled a little too loudly. Jacob looked up and gasped. He leaned over and nudged his brother, getting him to look at the man too.
"What are you doin'? I don't see anything."
Then Jacob leaned over again and whispered into his ear.
"Oh. You're right. It is whiter and bushier. Wow!"
It was all the boys could do to stay up any longer. They didn't even notice Elvin bounce out of the room at almost one a.m. But they did notice when the doors opened again and in walked,
"MICHAEL! WARREN! You're here!"
"We are? I'm 'xhausted. Umph!" said Michael as he fell into one of the soft chairs.
"Welcome, weary travelers. Welcome to your humble home," said the man, with a flourish. "Michael, how do you feel? Be honest."
"Okay. Honest, huh?" All the boys had gathered around their friend, waiting for details. "I feel great, except my butt feels like I was kicked all the way here and every bruise I ever had is sorer than they's ever been. That's all." And he flopped back into the big chair.
"Actually," Warren began, "He did marvelously. I wouldn't let him do any lifting and I had a ride arranged for us at the gate as we landed. Well, at the first layover. The trip was flawless and the country that we could see in the dark is breathtaking."
"Boy, I'll say. You stand out there long enough you'll break off your ween . . .uh, your shoelace, heh." Ah, Devon. So poetic.
Even so, Jacob couldn't stop giggling. "He was gonna say wiener, wasn't he?"
A cart with hot cocoa was served with several plates of cookies.
Things wrapped up pretty quickly after that. Larry and Devon helped Michael with a soak in a hot tub for a bit to ease some pain. He was mostly just stiff from moving so much after three days of no moving at all.
Michael needed rest and, although both sets of boys wanted him in their bed, it was decided that he would share a bed with Warren for one more night.
Warren was in love. He wanted to be Michael's daddy so much. He thought the stars and the moon rotated around the twelve-year-old. His mind was a whirl of all the things that had happened in the last few days. He helped Michael to undress and applied some of the ointment to his little backside. By then Michael was almost asleep. His moan at the touch to his delicate bottom made Warren smile. He worked at getting a long t-shirt on the boy then tucked in his little love and kissed his forehead. Then he undressed and rummaged around in his suitcase until he found his own pajama pants to wear.
This was a special boy, as beautiful and as loving as he could be. Warren loved him so dearly. He stood over his little cutie, wiping a single tear from his eye, then snuggled into bed so Michael could cuddle if he wanted.
That night there was no playing, no horsing around, no talking, no energy of any kind to spare. It was all the other boys could do to crawl into their beds.
"Ha, ha, ho!" said the man, from the doorway to the older boys' room. "Tuckered tots, all in their beds. Did you boys have fun today?" he asked as he tucked them in and hugged and kissed his boys.
"Uh-huh. It was sure fun. I'm dead. I'm gonna sleep for a week."
"Ha, ha, ho.! Well, you sure may do just that, Devon, but do you know what tomorrow is?"
"Yeah. Wednesday. Sleep day, I hope."
"Ha, ha, ho! You're a funny guy, little man. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. That's a very busy day for a toy company, you know. You do know, don't you? Boys?"
The man had one more laugh at the sleeping beauties before he went to the other room. The two boys were whispering, quietly. Jeremy looked pretty wide-eyed when the man entered, like he'd been discovered doing something.
"Oh, not tired boys?"
"We're 'xhausted, mister. But we had so much fun today. Didn't we, Jacob? Jacob!"
"Huh? Um, what?"
"Jacob, my sweet little love, you do spend a considerable amount of time staring at your big old friend, don't you?" The man had finished tucking them in and sat on the edge of their bed.
"Uh, nu-uh. I don't think so. I just, . . . you . . . Oh, it doesn't matter really. I think I must just be tired."
"Ha, ha, ho! Well, that could be. Tomorrow will be much busier than today, little ones. It's Christmas Eve."
"Wow!" said the two boys together, as clear as any duet.
"That's a very big day for a toy company, you know. So, let's get lots of sleep so we can meet the day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."
He kissed them each on both cheeks, then went to their door. "And, boys, I promise that tomorrow will be just about everything you have ever wanted it to be."
And he left.
"Wow! That means he is, Jeremy. He really is, huh?"
"No, Jacob. That means he's gonna get some o' the toys and save 'em for us, before they haul all the others outta here tomorrow. That's all. Go ta sleep."
A wide-eyed boy, sitting up just a little, looked at the empty doorway, with wonder in his thoughts.
"'Kay. Night, Jer."
"Uh, . . . night."
"These are the rules, my boys, . . . there are none. BUT!" said Elvin, dramatically, "you must not bother our friend, nor me, for the work today is of the most important kind. At such a place, this is the day of days. Nothing will stop us from getting these gifts delivered. This staff has waited a long time to share this time with our friend again; two years now. Everything must point to this time.
"Now, while we are busy you may play, watch, wander, even work if you want. But you must do your best to not slow anyone down, even a micro-second. Do you all understand the importance of this time?"
They all nodded. They were all caught up in the excitement and commotion. The entire complex seemed to be vibrating through its walls.
Elvin gave Warren a list of some events and times, for meals and such, and for the time when they should take their nap again.
"What? We turnin' inta sissies or sumpin'? What's all this cra . . .this stuff about havin' ta take naps all of a sudden? Jeesh!" You guessed it: Devon.
"My dear boy, do you remember how tired you were last night . . . no, that would have been this very morning, when Warren and Michael arrived?"
"Well, yeah, but . . ."
"And did you miss anything, because of your nappy-poo?" That got a serious look from Devon and a giggle from the other boys.
"Then, my friend, if you don't want to miss anything tonight, get some needed rest first, okay?"
"Yes, sir," he said quietly. Elvin gave him a hug, not to embarrass him, though it did a little.
"Michael, Warren, we gots lots ta show ya, and very little time," said an excited Larry.
By lunchtime, Warren felt like he had walked farther than they'd travelled the day before, but the things they saw were amazing. Fortunately, a wheelchair was brought from the resident hospital, so that Michael wouldn't exhaust himself too much. The boys had a great time, pushing him or riding in his lap, while Warren and the other boys ran along side.
At lunch in their suite, over a hearty soup with crusty cheese bread and a platter of veggies and dip, they talked and talked about all that they had seen, and what was left to see, too.
"Boys, you exhaust me. Aren't you guys the least bit tired?" asked Warren, lying back in his chair, wiping the last of his soup from his mouth.
"But we got a lotta stuff to see, Warren. Don't ya wanna see it with us?" asked Jacob, his enthusiasm spilling out of his entire being.
"Of course; but not all today. We'll be up here longer than today. Besides, I think Michael needs some rest, too."
They looked over to see Michael nod his agreement.
So it was decided to take their na. . . a, rest time, starting right then. They all said they wanted this to be a special time for Michael, too. That wouldn't happen if he had to go lay down all night.
Sleep actually came easy for all of them. Once they closed their eyes, they were out.
When Jacob came into the great room, next to the kitchen, he found Warren sipping some very fragrant hot tea.
"Can I get you a glass of milk and a cookie or two, Jacob? Are you gonna to be warm enough like that?"
Jacob didn't know what he meant. He looked down to see his cute pair of shorts. He just thought that was as natural as anything. But he nodded anyway.
Warren set his milk on the table with a napkin of cookies, and chuckled as the little guy crawled into his lap to enjoy his snack. Jacob tossed his hair and yawned, then reached for a cookie. Warren had his PJ pants on and a thin robe. It was all he needed in the warm rooms of their suite.
"You like Michael, huh?" said the eight-year-old, trying to keep most of the cookie in his mouth.
"Well, I like all of you boys, Jacob, but, yes, Michael and I kinda hit it off. I guess we have a lot in common."
"Oh. Does he like layin' on your hairy chest?"
"Um, Uh, well, I, he hasn't laid on me. We've cuddled, but no laying. Do you think he should?"
"Uh, huh. If your gonna be his daddy, you should let him lay on you lots. It's a good feeling. I got ta sleep on San . . . on our mister one night. That was the best ever. He's really soft. Want me ta tell Michael he should ask you, about the layin' thing?"
Warren gave the boy a soft hug.
"That would be so sweet of you, Jacob, but could I tell him instead?" He felt Jacob nod his head, as he snuggled under Warren's chin, which pushed open the robe some, so that Jacob was laying against the hairy chest.
Soon the other boys came in, one by one, getting their own drink and a fistful of cookies each.
"Okay, boys. I don't think I've seen such a big display of boy's underwear at one time in my life and, as beautiful as you each are, I think it would grind things to a stop if you all pranced out of here like that."
Five boys, still waking up, nodded and 'yeah'd' and walked back to their rooms. Michael walked in on Larry and Devon and asked if they could just have some quiet time for a while. Jeremy and Jacob came in, ready to pull on their clothes over the underwear they'd already had on.
"There must be a billion more things ta see in this huge place, but I'm so tired, I'm afraid someone's gonna open a drawer and I'll find something new in it and I'll fall over. I'm pooped still," said Michael.
Warren was kind of surprised when they all came back in, each wearing just a pair of loose shorts. Michael came and sat on the man's lap and explained that they were still pooped and wanted to take it easy. Jeremy found the game cupboard and pulled out a few boxes. Soon Larry, Devon and Jeremy were busy playing a game, Jacob was sound asleep on the couch, and Michael was still on Warren, enjoying his leg being rubbed back and forth.
"Ho! What have we here? Has my posse all deserted me?" asked the man as he walked in from his office. Warren looked up and smiled.
"We decided to rest a little more. The boys, especially Michael, and I, haven't quite caught up on our rest."
"Yes. It's probably a good idea. The excitement starts right after a late supper and could last for quite a while. I think you'll all have fun. Seeing the last of the toys and such going out is an old tradition here. It marks the end of a wonderful season. I'm just so glad I can share it with someone, finally."
"Well, sir, I'm sure I speak for the boys too, it's an honor to be your guests up here, for this celebration."
"Ho! Guests? My boy, you're not my guests; you're my family. I know we'll be sharing many more wonderful experiences as time goes on, the least of which is this company."
Warren gulped when he heard what he thought he heard. He was embarrassed to repeat what that was, fearing he heard him wrong. How could that be? He'd only known him and the boys for a few days and already they were family. He sat there with his dearest gift tucked into him and began to feel a warmth rising from within him. It spread, little by little until it seemed to fill every cell of his body. It felt like all of the greatest feelings from the best days with his dad had doubled and tripled and filled him all at once.
He gasped and let the emotions break out, causing him to laugh a bit as tears filled his eyes.
"Then I guess you're in agreement, Warren?"
But, before Warren could answer the man, the man was gone. Warren squeezed Michael in a big hug and kissed the top of his head. Then he leaned back in the chair, emotionally drained, and let the tears flow.
The boys had never tasted such a wonderful stew. Larry and Devon were a little hesitant at first, having tried what was called stew at several mission kitchens back in the forest of metal trees. But the aroma was too compelling and they both consumed their share and then some, giving the man cause for a hearty laugh.
"Ha, ho, ho! I'm glad you like your meal, boys. Have more; you'll need lots of energy for tonight. We're just about to start."
"Now, boys," Elvin started, "We need to be toasty warm for quite a while tonight. We want each of you to dress warmly. Yes, Jacob, you too. Your clothes are laid out for you. When we're done with our meal, I want you to go brush your teeth, y-e-e-s-s, and get dressed. We'll take hats and coats with us. We won't need them yet, but it will get a little chilly where we're going."
"But where's . . .?" Jacob asked, looking around for the man that had just been there.
"Don't you worry. He has a lot of responsibilities tonight. Our big friend will be along."
The boys were in a bit of a buzz. As long as they'd been there, they'd never gotten down to see the trains loading and unloading their goods. And everyone knows that trains have a special appeal for just about all boys.
"Oh, boy. Dumpin' boxes inta some old choo-choos. Big woo." Okay, almost every boy. Devon, again.
When they were dressed and gathered in the great room, Elvin told them to stick together and keep moving.
Now, their suite was directly to the left of the elevators in the middle of the building. Beyond it were some other classrooms and all the other homey places where they could play and exercise. So, when Elvin led them out of the suite and past the elevators, into a section of the building in which they'd never been, there was some definite murmuring among the boys. There must be another set of elevators that they hadn't seen yet.
"Almost there, my friends."
The boys liked Elvin. It was like he never walked anywhere. It always seemed like he was dancing from place to place. His energy level seemed endless, all the time. And he always had a smile and a hug for each of them.
"Well, we better hurry or I'll be swimmin' before we git there. I gotta go. I know, I know. I didn't hafta go then," whined Devon, doing his own dance as they went along.
They finally pushed through some double doors that led them into an office of sorts. There were a few desks, though very plain and mostly metal. Elvin had them put on their coats, but not their caps and gloves, yet. Then they went through another set of doors into a vast room of immense proportions. The room had to be as long as that half of the building. They must have walked the entire length of the building and turned back to enter the huge room.
It was as wide as half of the building, front to back. There were many doors of various sizes and types on one side, but none on the other side. It must have been the outside wall, though there were no windows. As they looked up, they realized that this part of the building was high, because the ceiling looked more like it was two stories high, not just one. And there was a strange smell that they couldn't place. It almost reminded them of parts of the old building, but not a bad smell, really.
Just then, several doors opened and flocks of people roamed into the space. It seemed like every employee and their family was coming in, like when they saw crowds going into a ball game stadium back at that other place.
The people all crowded into the space, staying away from the center, close to the walls.
Devon started getting antsy. He really had to go. Elvin was gone. There was no one to ask, so he started to look for the door he needed to find so desperately. Finally, someone pointed to a door at the side and Devon headed for it with a vengeance.
"Alright, everyone," said Elvin from the middle of the room, into a microphone. "Stay to the outer walls. Hold onto the little ones. Some of the directors of your departments want to say a word, then we'll proceed."
The boys still couldn't figure out how they could see the trains from there. They knew there was too much room used for manufacturing right below them to see all the way down to the tunnels. Maybe they had huge screens that would come out and show them.
Devon didn't hear any of it. Oh, he certainly heard the voices drone on about what a great season they'd had and how their boss had sparked a fire under them all by his return. But the feeling of exquisite joy at being able to finally empty his bladder used up most of his concentration. It must have used up part of his memory too, because when he left the restroom, he turned the wrong way.
"Let's see. If'n I came in this way then the door inta that arena place must be . . . right about . . . here!" And he opened the door. But instead of the arena, he almost ran into . . .
"Huh. What'cha doin' in that getup, mister?"
"It's my job, Devon; my joy, my love. I do it every year at exactly this time."
"Oh, yeah? But it makes ya look just like, . . . like, . . . oh my gaaaawd!" Devon whispered as he backed away from the man dressing in the unmistakable bright suit. He took a big gulp of air. His eyes were as wide open as his mouth. He backed right into the door frame, bumping his head. "Oh my gawd! LARRY!" he screamed as he ran from the room.
For the first time the man was free to really laugh.
"Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Back in the huge room, Larry began to realize that Devon wasn't beside him anymore. He tried to look for him, without moving much. No one would be foolish enough to move away from their group in a crowd this size.
"LARRY! Larry! I found ya! Ha! Guess what I seen jess now. It was . . ."
"I'd like to introduce our guests at Pole Manufacturing. Boys, Warren, please step out!" Elvin was waving them to him, where he stood in the center of the great room.
"Devon, let go a me! Come on! Quit it and come on!" Larry broke away from Devon's clutches and almost fell onto the floor, in front of about a billion people. How embarrassing.
"Most of you have met our honored guests. But the real treat is, they are not guests. Our friend has asked them to stay with us while our work is under way. Then, when he goes back, they will live in the cozy little house of this man, Warren Stone. We'll have more time at the reception after the main event, shortly, to meet and talk with these darlings. They are cute aren't they?"
The crowd cheered while the boys blushed.
"Now, without further adieu, our host!" Elvin ushered the kids to the side where they could see everything.
There was an immediate hush over the entire room as their attention turned to the side door they knew so well; the door that Devon had just come out.
But this time there was no mistaking who it was that came out of that door that Christmas Eve night. Oh, sure it was their friend but he couldn't have looked anymore splendid in the suit he wore of red plush velvet and the whitest fur cuffs and seams. He wore shiny black boots and had a wide black belt around his substantial middle, clasped with a huge silver buckle. Over his arm was a long green coat with fur on the cuffs and neck.
"Michael! Michael! That's the very coat he put around you when we took ya to the hospital. It's that very coat!" Larry couldn't believe it.
"I been tryin' ta tell ya, Lar. It's him!" whined Devon.
Jeremy looked down at his brother who was standing so proudly, as though he had something to do with the man being there; truly, in his heart, he knew who the man was all along. Jeremy hugged Jacob, bent down and whispered, "You were right, Jacob. You were right all along. You had the eyes and the heart to see who he really was, huh?"
Jacob couldn't take his eyes off of his hero, his friend, his Santa. A tear dripped onto his chin as he said,
When he spoke to the crowd, the man's voice boomed like the boys had never heard it before. There was no need for any microphones.
"My children. This night has been a long time coming. I thank you all for your patience with me during these last two years." He made a point of looking right at Elvin and Dora when he said that. "And this year has even more special meaning to me, and hopefully, to you all. For we have in our midst the future of Pole Manufacturing. These six young men, who are my joy and my deepest love, will be the future of all of us. As our children grow and learn, so will these fine boys be a part of our family, my family. Boys,"
Then he took a few steps over to the boys and hoisted Jacob into his arms.
"Welcome. Thank you for being a part of the most wonderful days of my life. Your energy and enthusiasm has brought me from my depths to a new surge that I haven't felt in years. You are the very epitome of what Pole Manufacturing is all about. Soon, we'll be able to travel to the other four manufacturing sites, now that you've been here in Canada, and have seen our northern most office, which we call our North Pole office and plant. I believe that may have gotten a little confusing to some story writers in the past. Now,"
He set Jacob down and Jeremy had to grab his stunned little brother to return him to the side with the rest.
"It's time to deliver the goods. Everyone together! Call to our steeds!"
Every person made the loudest, most gawd-awful sound of some dying trumpeter. All of the boys lowered their heads and covered their ears.
"Boys!" shouted Elvin, who had run over with his arms full of hats and gloves. "Put these on. It's going to get chilly!"
They wasted no time in wrapping up in their new, warm coats, hats and gloves. Just as they were finished, the wall at the far end of the room began to slide open. The people in front of that wall moved to the sides to let eight big reindeer into the long room. Of course they were pulling a sleigh, which was actually pulling another with a third behind it. On each were several bags containing masses of wrapped boxes, but each was a fraction of the size of anything they'd seen being manufactured at the plant.
All of the boys as one turned to look questioningly at Elvin, who expected their query.
"Boys, there's more to the magic than flying reindeer and chimneys."
His voice boomed again, one last time, "Good-bye, my friends, my lads. Don't wait up for me. HO, HO, HO, HO, HO!" Then he petted each of the excited reindeer and got into the first sleigh. A team of two small men got into each of the other two sleighs and grabbed its reins.
He looked out at the mighty reindeer and talked to them. "We have a job to do, my friends. Let's be off."
At that cue, the far half of the roof began to lift. It was hinged in the very center of the room's ceiling and opened until the far end of the roof was at a forty-five degree angle. Stars were as bright as they'd ever seen.
With a snap of the reins, the team of reindeer began to run. They ran and ran, in the opposite direction! The boys gasped when they realized the mistake that was about to take place, when all of the reindeer and sleighs gently lifted off of the floor, made the sharpest turn in the nick of time and sailed as gracefully as a bird up and out of the opening in the ceiling.
For a full minute they could hear their own hearts beat with the excitement of that night. Then the crowd began to cheer and laugh, hug and dance, sing and talk about the joy that their special evening had been.
The ceiling closed and tables with food and hot drinks appeared. The party that followed was the best ever. The boys had never tried so many wonderful treats or met so many new friends. They were definitely the center of attention. It seemed like a long time before people started to leave to their homes, to tuck sleepy children into warm beds, waiting for their friend to visit them too.
"Come on, Lar! I think I know where we can find one!"
Larry didn't have time to ask the obvious question. He was really too tired to do anything after all the excitement, but he ran after his friend anyway, ready to find out what crazy scheme Devon was working on this time.
"I think it's over here. Come on."
They'd already traveled through all the corridors and hallways twice, according to Larry's count.
"I'm tired, Dev. I wanna go back and relax. You may have noticed that there was a bit of pressure on everyone today."
"Whine, whine, whine. When ya see what I found, you'll thank yer lucky stars ya known me."
"Well, that'll be the first time then."
"Wa, wa, wa. Hurry up!"
They came to a double door of frosted glass that had the words, 'Sports Equipment' etched into it.
"Yes!" shouted Devon. "This is it."
He opened the door onto a long hallway of doors on either side, stretching for a long way. As they made their way down the hallway, Larry could see Devon reading each label above each door.
"Baseball, Basketball, Cricket. Hey, if they's in order, we need to be way down there," said Devon, running down the hallway.
"S, S, okay, now, S-L. Hey. They ain't nothin' S-L. Wait! S-N-O-W! Ha! Here. Come on, slowpoke. It's in here."
Devon waited as Larry walked up and sighed; a heavy sigh.
"Ready?" he asked. While Larry shook his head, no, he opened the door anyway to find . . .
"Oh, no. Aw, shit. It's empty."
"Whaddya expect, stupid. Where'd ya think he got all the junk he took with him just now? Toys R Us?"
"Well, I guess I figured they’d leave at least one sled."
"Sled? SLED? You drug my ass all the way up here to freezin' hell and gone for a sled? Oh my gawd! To escape on? So's you didn't hafta go ta school? Oh my double good gawd!"
"Hey, it was worth a try, wasn't it? Lar? LARRY?" Devon was the only one left in the room as the door began to swing closed.
The walk back was pretty quiet. Devon tried twice to apologize and then took the hint and gave up. At one point Larry stopped, turned to look at Devon, shook his head and laughed. Then he walked on.
They were totally lost. They seemed to be back where the sleighs and reindeer came out from, but it didn't look right. They were both opening any door they could until they came to a huge, long room; about the length of the team and sleighs. They kept trying doors until Devon called out,
"Hey, Lar! Looky what I found."
You can imagine Larry's desire to run right over. Still, he probably had to go that way, anyway.
Devon had opened the door and walked in, letting it swing closed behind him. When Larry opened the door a new experience filled his senses. They stood in the stables for the reindeer that carried the sleighs that their large friend had just left on. They heard some noises and walked down by the many empty stalls, complaining about the smells that were new to their noses.
Near the end of the stables were two small reindeer, each standing beside their proud mothers, in separate stalls. Larry was the first to be brave enough to put out his hand, which the small animal licked.
"Wow! He likes me, Dev."
"Sure! Fer dinner, prob'ly. They's wild animals, ya know. They'll stomp the crap outta ya." As Devon turned to say it, the mother came closer and licked Devon's neck. "Oh my gawd, Lar! I'm being eaten. Oh my gawd! What should I do?" Another second and he would have no choice. His pants would just be wet.
"Well, since they're tied up in there, ya could just as well walk away, I s'pose."
"Oh, yeah. Heh."
"Come over here, Dev. I wanna show ya somethin'."
Devon looked back to make sure he wasn't being followed, then trotted to where Larry was standing. There were a ton of gray tarps lying on piles of hay. It looked comfy to Larry so he lay down to try it out. He was so tired.
"Hey. It ain't bad. Get down here!" he said, patting the tarp next to him.
"What the hell for? O-o-o-o-h. Good idea." He was pretty tired too.
It didn't take too long for the boys to get settled in.
"I'm pooped." Larry flopped onto his back.
"Oh yeah. Me too." Devon scooted over and snuggled against his friend.
"If this is a dream, Dev, never let me wake up. It's the best dream I've ever had."
He felt the cold first, little by little, like a normal morning in the bleak old . . . no. Can't be! He reached beside him. On one side was a cold Devon, wrapped in a rough blanket, like that filthy one they had back at the . . . Naw! He reached to the other side and felt the cold, rough material of old, hard tarps, like the kind the painters had left at the . . . .'Please, no. Was it all a dream? All that had happened?' He would never open his eyes; he would never admit it. Nothing could make him open . . .
The hot blast of air stunned him. It smelled like some old coot. . . but he couldn't o' dreamt it all, and now he was gonna be hurtin real bad ifin he didn't figure out somethin'!
"Oh Shit!" he screamed, sitting up and opening his eyes to stare right into the face of the ugliest man, with the biggest nose, he'd ever . . .
"Blitzen! Leave that boy alone. Can't you see he's a bit spent?"
"Larry! Devon! We woke up and you were gone. Why would you wanna sleep out here all night?" an excited Jacob yelled, jumping onto the pile of horse blankets covering a waking Devon.
"Hey! I have an idea, kids," said the jolly man himself. "Let's all go sledding. There's a great sled right outside the suite."
While the three youngest kids whooped and hollered, Larry turned toward Devon with darts coming out of his eyes. Devon barely opened his eyes to see his friend's wrath, then closed them.
"School. Gotta go ta school. Shit!" he muttered.
May this holiday season help to make all your best dreams a reality. And, if you can find it in your heart, find a shelter or charity that aides our young homeless and abused and make a gift to them.